Resources - Quality Systems

Flowchart Analysis

Description A flowchart is a pictorial representation of the steps in a process where each step is represented by a block. The review of a flowchart allows the elimination of nonvalue added steps. When prepared by a group, the chart represents a consensus. The flowchart analysis is a useful tool for determining how a process works. By studying how process steps relate to each other, potential sources of problems can often be identified.

Many different types of flowcharts are useful in the continuous improvement process. Flowcharts often used are the top-down flowchart, the detailed flowchart, and the work flow diagram. The top-down flowchart presents only the major and most fundamental steps in a process. This chart makes it easy to visualize the process in a single, simple flow diagram. Key actions associated with each major activity are listed below their respective flow diagram steps. A top-down flowchart can be constructed fairly quickly and easily. This type of flowchart is generally developed before attempting to produce the detailed flowcharts for a process. By limiting the top-down flowchart to key actions, the probability of becoming bogged down in the detail is reduced.

Application This chart is used to provide a picture of the process prior to writing a procedure. Flowcharts should be created, then procedures written to follow the flowchart. The chart should be included as an appendix in the procedure. Flowcharts can be applied to anything from material flow to the steps it takes to service or sell a product.

Procedures A flowchart is prepared in the following manner:

  1. A development team creates a diagram that defines the scope of the task to be undertaken. Also identified are the major inputs and outputs.
  2. Create a data flow diagram. Start with executive level data that are involved in the process, followed by department data and finally branch data.
  3. Using the data, create an initial model. The team should walk through the process and look for any details that need to be clarified, added, or deleted.
  4. Make a data dictionary. This ensures that everyone involved in the project has a consistent understanding of the terms and steps used.
  5. Add the process symbols.
  6. Revise, as necessary.

Advantages

  1. Flowcharts allow examination and understanding of relationships in a process.
  2. Flowcharts provide a step-by-step picture that creates a common understanding about how the elements of a process fit together.
  3. Comparing a flowchart to actual process activities highlights areas where policies are unclear or are being violated.

Limitations The flowchart development process can be time-consuming.

Source: System Engineering "Toolbox" for Design-Oriented Engineers, Sec 7. - NASA/RP-1358

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